This article is a transcript of our podcast episode on the topic of overcoming a writing slump. To listen to that episode, please see our show notes here.
All of us wear multiple hats. We’re not only writers but also students, parents, carers, employees.
Then within our author life, we might write both fiction and non-fiction, as well as having to be marketers, administrators, graphic designers, web developers, researchers, editors, formatters, podcasters, event managers and speakers.
We spin all the plates and have to be able to switch between roles.
That can be a challenge and we can easily waste a lot of time by not knowing how to do this efficiently.
The different tasks require different parts of the brain and switching between them isn’t always straightforward.
I know that for me, when I’m in business mode, doing marketing and admin tasks I get on a roll and can be engrossed for an extended period of time. If I then try to switch to anything creative, namely writing fiction, my head can still be stuck in the zone for admin and I find myself going back to check on how those ads are doing one more time.
The opposite is true to a certain extent, but I think I find it easier to switch off my creative brain than the other way around. I’ll have an extended burst of creative energy and then when I’m done, I know I’m done and after a short rest I can easily get on with something else.
But getting into that creative zone is often a challenge with so many demands pulling on my time.
I hear similar things from other authors all of the time. I know some authors have been struggling to get into the writing zone since new year and we’re now in late February!
There can be various reasons for this struggle. Burnout is a big problem. When you throw a whole tonne of creative energy into one or more projects, you can need an extended break from it, maybe weeks or months. That’s definitely happened to me.
Coming back to writing can be really hard. So I wanted to share some tips for those of you that struggle with this.
One thing that I always do when I start a new writing project is create a playlist for it. I’ll pick out a dozen or so songs that evoke a certain mood for the project, quite often I’ll have one song in particular that feels like a theme song for the story, like on a TV show. Certain characters might also get their own piece of music. I’ll add to that playlist as I write as well and will listen to it while I write and also just generally in whatever pockets of time I usually listen to music in, like when driving or working out. I use that playlist to immerse myself into the story. It sets the mood.
If I’ve taken a break in the middle of writing a story then that playlist can very quickly get me back in the mood.
If you’re someone who doesn’t listen to music while you write you can still do this and use it as a trigger, then turn the music off while you actually write the words. I often use rainstorm or urban sounds white noise to write to, as I do find lyrics distracting. But the music still serves to get me in the mood to write.
I have a book that I started during NaNoWriMo in 2017 that I haven’t touched in over eighteen months. But it’s there in the back of my mind and I know that just listening to that book’s playlist will drop me right back in where I left off.
Another thing you can do is work in different places for different types of task. So perhaps you do your writing at a desk, or in a coffee shop, or on your sofa. But you do your admin from your phone in the kitchen while you’re cooking, or from the sofa with Friends on in the background. Yes, I have done this!
Perhaps your creative energy thrives best in comfort, so sitting on your bed with fluffy socks on works best. While putting shoes on and sitting at a desk helps you be more productive for your business tasks.
If you create differences in your routine then it can help set your frame of mind for the tasks you’re about to embark upon.
Similar to the playlist, you might want to pick a scented candle for a writing project and only burn that fragrance for that story. You’ll then associate that scent with your writing and it can help you to get into the mood.
All of these things are triggers. They’re things you can put in place to help trigger your brain to shift into the right zone for writing.
- Location & device
Maybe you have your own ideas for triggers. Maybe there’s a particular podcast that gets you in the mood to write, or a pep talk on YouTube, or reading a chapter of a book in your genre. Whatever your triggers are, embrace them.
In addition to triggers, certain conditions can set you up to get into the creative frame of mind.
Writing with other people! One of the absolute best things about NaNoWriMo is the community aspect. There are thousands of people all over the world who are also writing that month and there are loads of events both online and in-person that you can attend. Doing this helps to get you into the writing zone because you’re surrounded by like-minded people on the same quest.
Plus there’s a little bit of competition, either with others or just with yourself. It’s really motivating.
But what if it’s not NaNo season? Well, remember, there are the Camp NaNo events in April and July as well as the big one in November. But also, there are little pockets of the NaNo spirit around throughout the year.
Virtual Write-Ins on YouTube
I find AuthorTube particularly good for this. There are YouTubers running virtual write-ins regularly on their channels. Some of the ones I tune in for are Brooke Passmore, Natalia Leigh and Mandi Lynn’s sessions. They do group ones together, and solo sessions. These write-ins are fantastic live. You get the host or hosts chatting about writing, sharing tips and answering questions, then there’s the live chat, where you can connect with other writers.
Everyone will stop chatting for sprints and then share their word counts in the chat. That sense of community and shared endeavour can seriously help to break a funk and get you back into the writing zone.
If you can’t attend live, you can always put on the replay afterwards and write along to the sprints as they come up. I’ve done that before. It’s not quite as effective, but still helpful.
Mandi Lynn also hosts an event where you sign up and pledge to attempt to write 10,000 words in a single day! It’s a heck of a challenge. I’ve participated twice and not hit 10k yet. But last time I wrote 7,000 words.
It happened to coincide with a day when Brooke Passmore hosted a five-hour-long write-in on her channel! So I tuned in to that and added several thousand words during those sprints after a point in the day when I had felt almost out of energy. It completely reinvigorated me and spurred me on to write much more.
You might also find a friend or two to do your own writing sessions with either in person or online. Some writers get together to go on writing retreats. I have friends who do this. What could be more inspiring than to go off to a hotel or rent a cottage for a weekend somewhere scenic and spur each other on to write?
Track Your Word Count
You might find it helpful to track how many words you write per day, or use a reward chart if you find those things motivating. If you’re out of the habit of writing regularly then perhaps tell yourself that if you write at least 500 words a day for a week then you’ll treat yourself to a meal out or a trip to the cinema, or drinks out with a friend. Whatever is likely to spur you into action, try it!
When you’ve been working on another project, or caught up with taking exams, or working extra shifts at the day job, or caring for a family member, whenever another part of life has kept you from writing for a while, I hope that using these tips will get you back into the writing spirit.
Indie Fire Writers Conference
If you’ve enjoyed these tips but want even more advice on getting into the writing zone, even when you find yourself resisting it, we still have some tickets remaining for our writers conference, Indie Fire, which takes place in Shipley, West Yorkshire, on Saturday 30th May 2020.
One of our workshop sessions is How To Write Fast, Even When You Don’t Want To Write At All, with the wonderful Ken Preston.
We have an incredible line up of guest authors providing workshops and panel discussions on everything from writing better prose with Sacha Black to making a living as an author with USA Today bestseller, Meg Cowley.
Brush up on writing the weird, learn how to work with an editor and a cover designer, and come along to our live recording of the Unstoppable Authors Podcast.
We will also have a book market packed with fantastic authors and their books. Tickets cost just £20 and you can get yours at http://indiefire.uk.
Don’t forget, if you want to support the show and get even more of the two of us, you can get access to our exclusive after-show parties on our Patreon where we share our off-air conversations. Find us at patreon.com/unstoppableauthors.